This movie is 50 per cent adorable Studio Ghibli film, 50 per cent passionate avocation for organic farming – 3/5
I watched this film as part of a one weekend only, sold out, special screening at my local independent cinema and it most definitely added to the experience to be among fans who were audibly having a great time with this film. (So much so that I feel like some people were laughing at things that weren’t meant to be funny.) Based on a manga by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, Only Yesterday is about Taeko (Daisy Ridley), who works in the city but is getting ready to take her annual summer away volunteering on a farm in the country. The trip is bringing back memories for Taeko of her childhood, specifically 5th grade and her friends and family and the events of that year.
The source manga only featured the stories of Taeko’s childhood and writer and director Isao Takahata was having trouble combining them into a cohesive film, so added the scenes with Taeko as an adult. The childhood scenes are definitely where the film sparkles with Taeko a great addition to the Studio Ghibli heroines full of spirit, curiousity and intelligence. Through her childhood dramas we get an insight into middle/upper class Japanese culture of the 60’s portraying a mix between the traditional and the Western. The stories centre around many themes of growing including friends, boys, pressure to do well at school from parents and an interesting section on all the girls in her year learning about periods and the stigma surrounding this. According to IMDb, Disney didn’t dub or release Only Yesterday when it first came out because of the mention of menstruation and they couldn’t take that section out because Studio Ghibli has a clause in its distribution act that prevents alterations to its films. This recent dub was done by a different company GKIDS and it although I understand why Disney would think menstruation inappropriate for their brand, it is an example of the ridiculous silence in our culture over something that is entirely normal for 50 per cent of the population. I love the way Only Yesterday addressed the topic, with another girl in Taeko’s class teaching her that her period is nothing to be ashamed off, and it’s sad that this movie was created in 1991 and yet this is the first time I’ve seen periods mentioned like this in film.
The scenes with Taeko as an adult I did not find as engaging. Personally I think the snapshots of Taeko’s childhood adventures, perhaps connected with a narration, would have worked fine by themselves. I found I was drawn out of the film during the adult parts and the story of her discovering her love of farming and the countryside and falling in love with Toshio did not have any substantial connection with her childhood memories to warrant them. Especially bizarre were the long conversations Toshio and Taeko had about organic farming and the state of farming in Japan, which fitted with Studio Ghibli’s well known environmental themes but did not particularly fit with Taeko’s childhood, where she did not show any particularly passion for farming or the environment. These scenes were however beautifully animated with sweeping shots of incredible scenery and done in a realistic manner to contrast the more traditional cartoon style of the memories.
Just don’t leave the cinema as soon as the credits start like some fools did at the screening I saw, or you’ll miss the end.
Year: 1991/2016 American dub
Director & Screenplay: Isao Takahata (Grave of Fireflies, My Neighbours the Yamadas)
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel
Length: 1 hour 59 minutes